My Grammy Is NOT a Cherokee Princess


In 2011, the Grammys terminated the “Native American Music Album” award.

QUESTION: How many Grammy-winning projects did Native Americans produce?

SOLUTION: 1.5 XIT + 1/2 MIL + 1/3 MAT = ?

(This must be the same math the BIA uses.)

Let me take you through it. The first Native American Grammy award was presented in 2001. The winning production was a recording of the 1999 Gathering of Nations powwow.

I sang with Tha Tribe that year, and the first recording on the winning production featured a song with words my uncle translated. Despite our contribution, no one took home a little phonograph. I never asked my uncle how to say “Award-winning Songwriter” in Ojibwe.

The winning producers were Douglas Spotted Eagle and Tom Bee. I thought for sure Spotted Eagle sounded part-something, but after a simple Wikipedia search, I learned, “He is not an enrolled member of any tribe, yet grew up with both Lakota and Navajo families, the former of which gave him his name when he was 14 or 16.”

Citing Dances with Wolves as my only credible evidence, it seems my Lakota people name and adopt just about anyone.

The SOAR Records website states, “Adopted at birth, Tom Bee was born and raised in the reservation border town of Gallup, New Mexico”, and somewhere on the intra-webs I read he was Dakota, so I assume he knows a thing about Skins. A founding member of the band XIT, Bee was a long-time advocate for the Native American Grammy prior to winning. Bee later won the award as a solo producer.

• That's one producer credit and one co-producer credit for Tom Bee: 1.5 XIT in our equation.

The second winning producers were Giuli and Robert Doyle, of Canyon Records, a company celebrating 60 years of “Native American Music.” This was the only occasion a Canyon artist won, despite having numerous annual nominations, including seven-time nominee Black Lodge.

Mr. Doyle has produced over 300 projects featuring Native artists, and has been a member of the Recording Academy (formerly known as NARAS, the National Academy of Recording Artists & Sciences) since 1981. I could not track down an ethnicity for the Doyles, but based on published Census statistics there is a greater than 99 percent chance the Doyles are NOT Native American.

Thomas Wasinger produced the third winning production; he also won the award in 2007 and 2009. Wasinger produces for Silver Wave, which according to the company website, “are a leading independent music label that specializes in World, New Age, and Contemporary North American Indian Music, for over 20 years.” Although I found a picture of Wasinger, I could not determine his ethnicity, and again could only rely on statistics.

Other winning producers include Jim Wilson, who also produced the film Dances with Wolves. In the results of my Google image search, there were no braids on any of the Jim Wilsons (or any stoic Charlie Licos), so again I turned to the numbers. Ironically, producer Larry Mitchell sported stereotypical braids in his stoic picture; dreadlocks in fact.

Bill Miller is listed as a producer on a winning project with Mike von Muchow. While Miller states on his website that he is Mohican, there is no mention as to the ethnicity of von Muchow.

• That's one co-producer credit for Bill Miller: 1/2 MIL in our equation.

Last year, the winning project was again a production of the Gathering of Nations powwow. (The powwow everyone complains about, but attends every year.) The winning producers were the event's organizers, the Mathews Family, only a fraction of whom are Indian.

• That's a partial production credit for the Mathews family: 1/3 MAT in our equation.

Now, I’m not the “Indian Police” checking status cards, nor am I the BIA trying to fractionalize anyone’s identity. I simply Googled some names, inquired with a few Rez-sources, and formed a boarding-school educated conclusion.

Based on the available evidence, over the 11 years of its existence the Native American Music Album winner was actually produced by a Skin just 21 percent of the time. That’s NOT EVEN enough Indian to be enrolled in most Tribes.

Rather than have another foreign institution judge us, and dictate what constitutes Native American identity; we must view the termination of the Grammy award as a victory for sovereignty.

The thing about Skins is that we have always governed our identity through the production of our art.

Certainly this translates into the legal realm, for I wonder how many award-winning “producers” would be in violation of the American Indian Arts and Crafts Act?

But what do I know? I may have “won” a Grammy, but I can’t read a single note of music.

When Pipestone won a Native American Music Award (NAMMY), the people of Odaawaazaagaaingaaning honored their beloved with blankets and eagle feathers.

This year, my daughter is learning the saxophone. Should she ever win a Grammy, Pipestone will sing her a victory song.

For if her music must be judged and categorized, I hope it’s in terms of genre and not race.

Cetan Wanbli Williams is a member of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe. He is a regular contributor to The Thing About Skins and his email is